Monday, 18 December 2017

One Love

Derby County Youth  2  Manchester United Youth  2  (3-1 pens aet)

FA Youth Cup – Third Round

It doesn’t matter what level of football it is, there’s always something very sweet about beating Manchester United.

Unashamedly, as the young Rams slotted home the vital penalty kick that won the game, I’ll admit to a fist pump, which was only slightly less visible and audible to City fan Steve’s reaction, who by his own admission would happily pay good money to watch the Red Devils suffer!

I’ll be honest though, this wasn’t about seeing United lose, it was about seeing the Rams win. Home is where the heart is, and I was born into a family that was very much a Derby County family. Dad had a season ticket in the sixties and seventies, and was fortunate to see two First Division championships lifted, great European nights against the likes of Benfica and Real Madrid, and be on the terraces as the great Clough / Taylor story unfolded. While in Holland recently, in the early hours of the morning I got in to recount some of the great days and it was fascinating to listen to.

It Never Fills Up Until Ten Minutes Before Kick Off.....
My own story didn’t begin until the 1980-81 season, as a birthday treat I was taken to the Baseball Ground to see the Rams take on QPR. The game finished 3-3 and featured on Match of the Day that evening, and as a result the highlights are now available on You Tube.

I was pretty much hooked, but trips to the BBG were not as frequent as I would have liked due to Dad’s involvement with Belper Town. I did get to see the infamous FA Cup run the ended with a Sixth Round Replay defeat to Plymouth Argyle, now that was a scary night, the first time I’d ever encountered football hooliganism.

I saw promotion from the old Second Division to the First under Arthur Cox, and one game that sticks out from that period was a home draw with Portsmouth on a Wednesday night. We got caught up in an awful crush trying to get through the turnstiles to access the Popside terracing, and that I must admit was terrifying. At points my feet were not touching the floor as the crowd swayed backwards and forwards, eventually the gates were opened and the crowd were allowed to make their way through without paying. The Hillsborough disaster was not too far away, for many that was a disaster waiting to happen.

Corporate Seats - They've All Disappeared For The Half Time Trough! 
Hooked, and old enough, I had my first season ticket with the Rams in the top flight. Stood on the Normanton End with my Dad’s mate Paul, I saw some great games, and only a European ban prevented qualification for the UEFA Cup, when the side containing Dean Saunders and Mark Wright were a match for anyone on their day. You have to remember as well, back then, Spurs were nowhere, Chelsea not even in the top flight, the same with Manchester City. Manchester United were a mid-table side, but it was Liverpool or Arsenal that you had to beat. I saw all of those sides at varying times go away from the BBG with their tails between their legs. The season Derby finished fifth, it was the big two along with Norwich and Forest that finished above us, times have very much changed.

It was also at that time where I started to attend away games, initially by car with some mates, but then eventually on Ernie Hallam’s Roadriders. Some great days out were had, winning at Spurs, at Manchester United, famously at Villa Park when one of my mates was ejected, and also at Arsenal where Dean Saunders scored a wonder goal.

We did some daft stuff as well, Exeter and Southend away in midweek for League Cup ties, but relegation followed and the fun continued in the Second Division. Millwall away was lively, Blackburn away in the Play Off’s was a nightmare as Lionel Pickering’s heavily invested side were well beaten, and then finally as Cox’s team came together and Wembley beckoned for a Play Off Final against Leicester City, the big time was surely ninety minutes away.

Man Utd - You Must Have Come On A Skateboard
The rest is history, despite dominating the game, it went wrong. I gave up my season ticket after that and drifted back to watching Belper, but I did still continue to visit as the Rams moved to Pride Park. I would try and get to the Forest games, and typically I’d try and get at some point over the festive period. Promotion to the Premier League under Jim Smith was great, but this was a very different Premier League to the one today. Take Derby’s last foray into it, the worst team in history as the Forest fans like to remind us….

I’d not set foot in Pride Park since February last season when I saw a truly awful 0-0 draw against Burton Albion. But, with the weather once again a challenge, the opportunity to see one of the supposed best youth sides in the Country in action, was enough to tempt me down the A52.

Mel Morris, the Rams Chairman and owner has clearly got into the festive spirit, and not only has he decided to subsidise by £15 per ticket the ridiculous prices the Red Devils are charging for the upcoming FA Cup tie, he decided to save us all the advertised £3 for the Youth Cup tie by simply letting everyone in for free! Good old Mel, I take it all back………

The young Rams took the lead in the third minute through Connor Dixon, but Tahith Chong equalised for the Reds. Derby retook the lead in the first half when Jayden Bogle scored from a free kick.

With the snow falling heavily in the second period and the crowd huddled together in the lower tier of the East Stand, Aidan Barlow restored parity and the game was forced into extra time.

Wonder If Steve Bloomer's Watching?
United substitute Aliou Traore was sent off in the first period of extra time and that lead to pretty much one way traffic, but with the well organised visitors putting nine men behind the ball and having no attacking intent, the Rams could not break them down and it was to be penalty kicks.

Goalkeeper Joe Fryatt was the hero saving the first three United penalties, and goals from Henry Wise (son of Dennis), Jason Knight and Bogle were sufficient to send the Rams through at the expense of one of the competition favourites. It was a deserved victory for the Rams endeavour, who on the final analysis had been the better team on the night.

It was a sweet victory, even if it was the Under 18’s, and as is often the case, once through those turnstiles the passion is re-ignited. It’s going ok so far this season under Gary Rowett, might be worth getting the fixture list out and having a look at some options.

I talk about Belper Town and I talk about Derry City, they are two clubs that I’ve effectively been introduced to through various means, but Derby County was the club I was born into. On that basis, they will always be the first love, and the last.

"Derby is a footballing town, Nottingham never has been" - Brian Clough (2004)

Never Forgotten - Either Side Of The M1

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